Renaissance Fair, September 7, 1992.
|Published in a 1992 Issue of Anvil Magazine
ANVIL: Bruce, you used to find the Renaissance Fair fairly lucrative, but not so anymore. What do you think is happening?
BRUCE: Just this one fair; last year and the year before were excellent. I think it basically has to do with politics. People are saying, "We're going to have to tighten our purse strings and knuckle down!" And so, when they look at ironwork today, it's perhaps considered nonessential. We're trying to convince them that they're not buying something nonessential, but something absolutely unique that won't wear out _ ironwork that could actually become an heirloom, lasting through time _ an investment.
ANVIL: You had some beautiful fireplace sets, Bruce, and really perfected your ram heads and horse heads.
BRUCE: I had to give Toby Hickman, another rams-head maker, a run for his money! I believe I'm the only one that puts ears on their rams.
ANVIL: Did you learn that aspect of blacksmithing from Toby?
BRUCE: No, I just copied him. What's the saying? "Imitation is the highest form of flattery."
ANVIL: You started shoeing horses and then became a blacksmith, right?
BRUCE: My apprenticeship was as a blacksmith. I got into it to learn to shoe horses because it was "manly." I was raised pretty much in Latin America where a man is this paragon of strength and denial, and the macho theory was predominate. I was brought up that way, and we were always taught what a real man should be. I didn't have an example; my father died when I was two. Later, I spent a lot of time in England learning horseshoeing in a blacksmith shop. This was in the early sixties. As you know, London had been leveled, and they were still rebuilding after the blitz. We perhaps did 70 horses a month, and the rest was rebuilding Edwardian, Victorian, and all different styles of ironwork _ restoring buildings bombed out during the war. Later, when I came to the United States, the only thing that paid was horseshoeing. I finally went to Porterville to get a credential because people here said that I couldn't have learned it in England. I took a class from Dave Tyler. In those days it was $4.00 to shoe a horse if they brought it in. There were two of us: Milt Maxwell and myself. We were the only ones who had ever shod a horse before. We were doing four to six horses a day. We basically had a lot of fun, and I got my credential, and eventually my credentials to teach.
ANVIL: You and Monk formed sort of an unusual partnership, didn't you?
BRUCE: Quite! I don't think he spoke 20 words to me in our entire relationship _ somewhat of a taciturn fellow.
ANVIL: Your "Guts, Part I and Part II" is based on your relationship with him, isn't it?
BRUCE: Sort of taking over where he was with Lloyd. Those horses were real. I did those horses for four years purely to prove that I could _ the most terrifying thing I have ever done! Mike Chisholm and I went out there and did them two or three different times. Mike is big and strong. He'd just grab hold of them and we'd snub them to trees, but all of them had big lopped ears from getting into that shed and banging their heads when they went out, which was the easiest way to do it. One of the many lessons I learned from Monk was that if the horse went out backwards and got tangled up in the fence, leave him in the fence. We did many of them tangled up in hog-wire fences. They can't move, they are all wrapped up, and the owners are horrified! We'd shoe them and cut them out of the fence. Monk spent a lot of time with Indians. He was very famous for his bridle horses. He would have four rings buried in the ground in relation to four feet. He had about six or eight kids, and he'd hobble the horse to those four rings, standing up, day and night. The kids would play on the horse like a jungle gym, and the horse couldn't kick, couldn't move, couldn't move his feet. Then he had 10 or 12 different Spanish-type bits. When he got through with the horse, he could ride him with his little finger. There are places you can move where they can't get to you, and you become the biggest ogre in the world because the horse sees you. His eyeball is like a fish-eye; you look twice and three times as big to him as you actually are, and so you have to play all these different games. There's a lot of psychology with it. Maybe someday I'll write a book about horse psychology.
ANVIL: I think Mike Chisholm must have picked up some of his attitudes about horses from you.
BRUCE: Yes, many. I had a shoeing shop in those days, and one day Mike came in crying "real tears." He had been out to do this horse. The owner had just gotten out of Napa State Hospital, recovering from a nervous breakdown. Mike was going to shoe her horse so she could ride. The horse was really obstreperous in the front feet, so Mike just hobbled the front foot up and tapped on it, a trick that I taught him. If you can't cut the clinches with tapping, then hobble the foot up and tap. Well, this horse had been a mamma's baby. It went over backwards, fell and died right in front of this lady. Still in her bathrobe, back to Napa she went! Poor Mike was devastated!
ANVIL: This macho thing that you're talking about, do you think that's a necessary prerequisite for becoming a successful horseshoer and/or blacksmith?
BRUCE: No. I would like to think so because that's how I did it and, of course, the way I did it is the ONLY way to do it. But, NO. It just sets up an automatic battle-line between you and the horse. If I start a horse, I finish it.
ANVIL: Some folks might consider that overly macho.
BRUCE: I did get a reputation for being a heavy-hand, but I also had a reputation for breaking babies, especially at the Arab ranches and Thoroughbred farms. I'd get them when they were six- weeks-old. Foaling season was great! When I got through with the babies after three or four go-arounds, anybody could pick their feet up. Sometimes it would take two and three hours to do it. If you can pick the foot up three times and hold it three times, and the horse doesn't get away, then it's a habit. Three times with a horse is a habit. If they pull the foot away three times in a row, it's also a habit; they know they can do it. If they try it three times in a row and they don't give the foot back, it's a habit; they give it to you and it's fine. But you have to know all the tricks, basically wrestling. You get right down and dirty with them, and they'll throw themselves and everything else, but you stay calm. You keep talking to them and laughing at them _ horses have pride. And when you laugh at them, they get embarrassed, especially if they fall down. You quickly get on their neck and you leave them down there. You slap them all over, and you laugh at them. They don't want to go down again because that's embarrassing. But then they discover, like some of the cold-blooded horses, that when they lie down you can't get them back up, and so you cut their wind off. And I've had many people say, "You're going to kill my horse!" You just grab their nose and cut the wind off. They don't know how to breathe through their mouth, and right before they pass out, they jump up. Sometimes you have to hold that nose for almost a minute, a minute and a half. They make weird death rattle noises, but they will come up, even though people get angry about this procedure. And, another thing. Remember that legally, as a horseshoer, whenever you're working on a horse, you're liable for whatever that horse does. If it goes through the owner's front room, breaks windows and everything else, OR if that horse hurts the owner in any way, you're liable for it. That's the way the law reads because you're doing it.
ANVIL: Any other tricks?
BRUCE: Oh, yes, another very good trick. If you have an obstreperous horse, one that's too big and powerful for you to hang onto, take and snub him up to a post. Give him an inch and a half of rope. Always contrive to have a huge pocketknife or something, as a pretense of getting something out of your pocket or sheath. Tell the owner to pull this knife out and stab it into the post right near the horse's nose, up where he won't cut himself. And you tell the owner, looking at him square in the eye, "When I tell you to, cut the rope." And then the horse, of course, is struggling with its head because it's really locked in. If you're fast, you can get that horse done in about four minutes. And there's the owner, fixed on that knife, waiting to pull it and cut the rope. I have used that scam hundreds of times. People will say "He's magnificent!" And I think, 'Thank goodness we didn't have to use that!' But it's a way to get the owner focused on something other than what you're doing.
ANVIL: Any others?
BRUCE: There are a couple of other tricks. There's a nerve ending at the curve, right before you get to the hock, there's a curve in there, and you can squeeze it. If the horse is a kicker, it will fire; if not, you squeeze it, and they start shivering and it will lie down on it. It's a nerve ending or something. You have this "spoiled- brat" horse, and you manage to get the front feet done because you can get more control up there, especially if the owner is on your side. And then you get behind, and the owner is sitting there holding the rope. It looks like you're going to pick the foot up. You give it a squeeze. Pow! It fires! And you do it one or two times and the owner is standing there, "What's going on?" And you say, "Well, all I'm doing is trying to pick the foot up." They can't see what you're doing. All they see is this foot flying by, and finally the owner will say, "Well, that's bad; we can't have this horse kicking." And I say, "Oh, no, we can't." "Well, can you do something about that?" "Of course, I can do something about that." So you get carte blanche to discipline the horse. I don't give these tricks away very often. You have to get out in the field, watch these horses, and deal with them. You have to make the miracles. I have a reputation of "making miracles," a reputation which you don't want to get because then it's expected of you! Many, many ringbone, any kind of arthritic horses; whirl bone disease, for goodness sake, look at that. You haven't done an article on whirl bone, have you?
ANVIL: No, what is "whirl bone" disease?
BRUCE: Well, the way to test for it is interesting. You have the rump right there. I don't know the names of the bones from the rear end, but there's a part of the hip mechanism sticking out. What happens is a horse will be coming down a hill in the mud and do the splits, pulls the ligaments way back, way up in the crotch, back up in there. When they move, they move funny. The only way you can test for it is you have to take up both sides of the anus. You'll find there's an indentation there and if you push hard simultaneously; if they have it, they kick. It's hard to test for it. I've only worked on two horses that ever had that. Basically, you have to elevate the heel, like a long egg bar, not a lot of weight. You can't start using rubber wedges and that sort of thing. You have to contrive to make something that isn't going to grab. Aluminum works fine; they make it two inches thick. It won't last very long, but long enough. Two or three weeks later they get better and better and that's fine. For a lot of hock problems there are ways to do it that you can take a horse not in competition. In fact, here at the fair at one point, they had a navicular horse. Of course, the rule of thumb for a navicular horse is "raise the angle, raise the angle." Well, the mare held a 65o angle naturally, and the shoer trimmed her to a 73o or something like that and put heavy shoes and pads on her, and she was lame. So, the vet came out and said, "We want 3o wedges under her and a rocker toe." In other words, you want to put stumps on her. Well, the dynamic of navicular disease is you have a little bone with a huge tendon going over it. You have to slack that tendon. The way you do that is not by elevating the angle. You get the proper shoulder angle; you don't cut it down to 45o. You get the proper shoulder angle and you trim it. You let the shoe hang back. And if you hang back, then the foot doesn't want to tip over because this is bracing it. The idea is to keep the dynamic angle, the pastern and everything else; keep that balanced. Don't go raising it or lowering it to give any kind of relief. Make sure you have your proper angles; use a light Diana, I think I really screwed up on measurements here???? shoe _ 1/4 x 1, 3/8, 3/16, 3/4. You don't have to have a huge heavy shoe, especially for any kind of joint problem. But you have to have what the shoe can do for you, if it keeps the wear down. It can also hang back. If you have a horrendously contracted inside heel, put the shoe out where the foot would normally be. They are not going to pull it off unless you're standing around a trailer. But you do have that problem, build that inside wall up. Be a little bit of a blacksmith. There are ways of doing it. Blacksmiths make these fenders that come up, fill them with soft acrylic, not hard acrylic. It doesn't bind the heel. I could go on and on about horseshoeing. I've got this reputation. You learn a lot, you learn about what works.
ANVIL: Bruce, you find that women make excellent horseshoers, but do you also think that they make very good blacksmiths?
BRUCE: Yes, they do. The girl I have striking for me is really better at striking, even though she had never struck for anybody before. I once had a professional smith striking for me, and he would actually try to show how strong he was. I don't need strength. The hammer does the work, not the strength behind it. What's behind the hammer is accuracy and speed. The weight of the hammer determines what's going to happen. I did a little demo for Al Wagoner for his welding class, and there were mostly horseshoers there. I needed somebody to help strike on an axe, which takes quick, rapid blows. I was taking people out of the crowd to see who would make the best striker. I use an eight-pound hammer, nothing heavy, and these guys would completely miss the hot iron, hit the anvil, damn near coldcock themselves with the Di Didn't he talk about this "great woman striker" before? hammer! Finally, Alice Johnson came up, and she was quick and accurate. And I said, "Lady, you're it!" She was perfect. I remarked to the other guys, "Gentlemen, learn something. This is what I need. I don't care how strong you are; I want speed and accuracy. Watch what I do. It's body language. I was giving them all sorts of things that a lady would understand, but a guy would ignore because he's staring at that steel and not listening, not doing anything but concentrating on hitting it as hard as he can. I think a lady has more awareness, unless you get European smiths coming over here who have been trained that way. Now. Alice, she's great _ fire weld, anything. She really makes it exciting because you can actually feel it under the hammer. Of course, all of us who do forge realize that half of the forging is feeling what's happening through the whole hammer and everything else. Once you really get good at it, that's your addiction. You're pushing this stuff around; you know what a push feels like; you know what a draw feels like when you actually penetrate the steel as you're drawing it. It is a high, I don't know how to describe it. It has nothing to do with machismo at all. I think I've made an addict out of this little girl!
ANVIL: As the people walk through the Renaissance Fair, observing what you do, do you think that they even have a clue as to the magic?
BRUCE: No, not a clue. That's why I try to forge wherever I sell because they look at what I make back there and they can't imagine that a person in this day and age can do that. They ask me where I get my dies, or my forms. Is there an outfit in Pakistan or someplace that supplies me with the little things? They can't believe that you can do this.
ANVIL: You must have done a lot of research in order to do that shoeing board that you made which covers horseshoes from as far back as Celtic times.
BRUCE: Yes, that took four books. I have a library of about 60 shoeing books from all over the place. Some in Italian. I took what were the most diabolical looking things that I saw in the drawings and reproduced them. And they are not accurate in that the times they came from, they would have been twice as wide as they were thick, so I should have used 1/2 x 1 to make a lot of those. I used 3/8 x 1. That's the inaccuracy and so they aren't totally accurate.
ANVIL: You once designed and loaned out a shoe for a foal. It had a leather top to it.
BRUCE: Yes, the fellow who took over my class, Stuart Greenberg, has it. And what they are is when a foal is born, especially a big-money foal, a purebred, a lot of times their knees are an absolute mess. And the vets say, "Oh, wait until they're six- weeks-old and then you can start trimming when the baby's foot is grown. Wait till then, and a good farrier, they say, can reach a knee and straighten the leg out." No, you cannot. You cannot reach a knee after six-weeks-old. If you can get to these babies before they're six-weeks-old, all those bones are still so plastic, you can take a bench knee and move it square. The problem with it is if that foot was . . . whatever the bench was causing in the bottom of the foot, you can tell. You look at the bottom of the foot and basically you have a rough "D" shape. The straight side is the side the weight is going on. This is called "The Theories of Rights and Lefts," and it comes from Harness Horseshoeing. I took it to a fine art when I talked. It said that there are five basic indicators that will tell you where the weight-bearing side is. If you know where the weight-bearing side is, that's the side you leave alone. It gives you a starting point. So you read the baby's foot because you can already see because of the way that knee is growing _ okay, the weight's going to the inside, the weight's going to the outside. And you have this little tiny slipper that you tape on with duct tape that has a huge scroll on one side or you can turn it around and put the scroll on the other side, depending on the weight-bearing side. You put the scroll on the weight-bearing side. It only has to stay on for 45 minutes. Well, the baby runs around trying to shake it off. And then you'll start to see the knee shake, and that means the knee hurts. The baby lies down and you take it off. You do it at feeding time for the mamma in the stall because a lot of times when you first put them on, they shake them off. And people have to learn to do this twice a day. When I first started doing them, I would go out and monitor these shoes. I'd go out every day and look. It was like time-lapse photography watching these knees just . . . over. Sometimes they'd be twisted; I even had a diagonal that would take up a twist and then you just offset the knee. Then I was lucky enough to follow on about ten of these babies up into two, three, four and five-year-olds. The thing is whatever that read was, the knee stayed straight, but if the weight-bearing side, as determined by birth or whatever, was that way they would stay that way. In other words, this one baby toed-in horribly way to the outside _ classic toe-in. We got him straightened out, but we would always have to do corrective work on the toe-in, which is no problem. It's down at the foot, not up at the knee. So, in essence, what you do is you're removing the problem from up high down low, and where you can handle it.
ANVIL: Did you have problems convincing people of the merit of your procedure?
BRUCE: The vets would look at it and laugh. It basically was a variation on a trick from O. R. Adams who said, "When you have the drop fetlock babies, just get a fold-over strap hinge and pull it together and tape it on." Of course, the hinge itself acts as a lever. First of all, it's very long and it elevates so you're slightly . . digital, and the baby of a young size as it gets tension it contracts up on the fetlock. And I said, "Oh, if that's true, what if you turned it at right angles?" So I found a lady that let me try it. She had a mare that threw this and she kept throwing twice and she said, "Can we do anything about it?" So I tried with the hinges and it worked. The next year she had another foal and the baby was just obstreperous and kept pulling it off. And the lady was having a horrible time and said, "Can't you make something that will work?" Well, that was all the challenge that I needed and I started on it. Eventually it evolved and I had about four of them that Stu has. I kept one if you ever want a picture of it I can get it. But, it does work. But scientifically I only had 25 babies; I needed 100 to actually do a paper on it. Twenty- five, yes, I could be just lucky; 25 in a row I could have gotten lucky. I would really like to do a paper on it and put it out there so that other shoers could try it. With horseshoeing, you're dealing with a living thing. There are no rules. The problem with horseshoeing is everybody wants to get a formula that works. They are forever writing a hard-core, written-in-stone philosophy. It doesn't work that way. Every horse is different and peculiar to the area it lives in, and every foal is peculiar to the genetics behind it, and you have to get an intuitive grasp about the area you're shoeing in and the horses you're shoeing. You can't just write a paper and say this is how to do it in Northern California where it's a high, coastal desert for six months out of the year, or down in Georgia where it rains every week. If they take what I've written about a particular area and plug it in over there, it won't work; you're liable to hurt somebody. That's why I try to stay away from hard-core processes _ "you have to do it this way." That's why that board is out there. It's an empirical tour de force. North Africa: heavy, full steel; Northern Europe: light, not full protection. Just there because the ground is muddy; they're on the Roman roads, and they needed some way to hold the foot together on the rocks; whereas, down in North Africa, there is dry, hard desert, their feet are hard, and all you want to do is keep the feet from bruising, wearing off too quick, so you need full protection of the sole. Up north, it's too soft and you don't need that.
ANVIL: Bruce, what's your opinion of aluminum versus steel?
BRUCE: The "be-all, end-all" _ the aluminum shoe? I started making aluminum shoes when the article came out in Chronicle of the Horse about the olympic shoer some 20 years ago. Now everybody wears aluminum because "Oh, it's a competitive shoe." Aluminum works the day of the competition. You shoe your horse in iron, you shoe him in pads, and you make it really heavy just like an athlete wearing boots and weights on his legs. You work him out with that and you make him strong. Then right before the competition you put aluminum on. The horse flies! And it's an advantage, but if you work him in aluminum all the time, you might as well work him barefoot. Aluminum is very expensive; it wears out. The advantage is in the daily performance. When you want the "nth" degree, then go to the light shoe. But that's too obvious.
ANVIL: You have come up with some interesting ideas regarding the necessity of horseshoes.
BRUCE: What about the horses in the wild? They didn't wear shoes because they weren't being ridden. If they got sore-footed, they died so you had a natural selection and bred good feet on a horse. Nowadays we breed the feet off the horses and the feet wear quicker than they grow so we have to shoe them. What I would like to see is take all these high-bred horses with all their paper and run them into the sea and turn the rest out on the Nevada plains. Wait three generations, which would be eight years, take what's left and use them for breeding stock and then we'd have feet back on the horse. I used to make miracles. People would say they had to have shoes, pads, clips, clamps, and hose clamps and everything else; this horse doesn't go grow a foot. I'd say, "Okay, I want you to get 20 yards of crushed rock, at least 1-1/2 inch in diameter. Put it in the paddock, and we'll take his shoes off, and I want you to go on a six weeks' vacation. When you come back, your horse will be sound with a very, very nice foot." None of them would do it. What you do is you take a poor-footed horse, unless it has been drop-sole or foundered. You put him on a rocky pasture barefoot. They won't move, they look horrible. And what happens? Mother Nature takes over and says, "Oh, oh, I'm going to have to go back to work," and starts adapting that foot. It's just like you wear shoes all the time. You can't run barefoot across hot rocks, but if you went barefoot long enough, you could. The same thing with the horse's foot. They will adapt, they will readapt. No problem at all. It takes between six weeks and two months to do it. But, "Oh, no, my poor horse has to have shoes." Yes, now it does because you have it dependent on them. You can throw those shoes away, put him out on a rocky pasture, and it will adapt again in two months. I've taken the shelliest, most god-awful feet. People have the vet come out, and they say, "Oh, this is rotten, we'll just carve it up." Yes, but at least it's still there; don't do that. At least it's filling up the space. Don't carve it up. Oh, but they have to do something; that's surgery. You see, if a vet draws blood in the foot, it's surgery. If a farrier draws blood, then he's a butcher. One horse had really thin soles. I was using 1-1/2-inch wide shoes on the horse. And so the vet came out and said, "This foot's not right." "Don't touch those soles," I said. "Oh, no, I'm going to X-ray the feet." And he goes slice with the knife and the horse bled like crazy. And the girl is sitting there holding the horse. And he said, "You have to pad this horse." Well, shooting a nail into a thin wall through a leather pad or any kind of a pad, you try to find the white line. That's why I like the wide web shoe because you can put the nail where you want it, and you don't run the risk of binding him with a pad. Plus pads just make the feet longer, and a pad doesn't dry the foot off; it keeps the foot soft because it holds all the moisture in. Whereas, a wide web shoe will toughen the sole because it's not holding the moisture in.
ANVIL: So you advocate letting the horse go barefoot as often as possible?
BRUCE: Absolutely. If you're in the calvary and you're fighting Indians, I recommend shoes. But, as often as you can, let Mother Nature do it. If you have a radically crooked horse that's constantly breaking the inside heels down, that's confirmation of it. Okay, then you have to keep that outside low. Give the horseowner an old rasp. He can't really do much damage with it. Just tell him everyday, or every other day to pull a little off this one side and keep it rounded it up. They'll get overzealous, they'll feel great, it will give them something to do. In fact, if a horse is rank or whatever, send the owner off for something important _ a left-handed monkey wrench, whatever. By the time they get back, you're finished and have had time to wash the blood off!
ANVIL: Bruce, you've led a pretty illustrious and sort of vagabond life through horseshoeing and blacksmithing, and now you're concentrating more on writing. Where did you develop your very unique writing style, or did it come naturally?
BRUCE: Oh, you want something mystical? It was in the middle of the Atlantic coming back on an Italian freighter, a renovated liberty ship. We were at sea for six months _ and at the exact time that Hemingway shot himself. The moment his body was cold I became a writer. I was accused of being very "Hemingwayesque." First of all, we lived in Latin America and my English was all mixed up with Italian, Spanish, "English-English," and with a Texas drawl. I was young and quite lusty in those days and hadn't had an ear for the American language for a long time, but I did have a friend, Bill Long, from Texas, so I had an English accent with a southern drawl, but no ear for a simple declarative sentence. I had read Elements of Style, however, so I knew being concise was a plus. I hadn't read any Hemingway so I started writing this very Spanish-style of English. All my teachers kept saying, "Lose the Spanish, lose the Spanish!" I wanted to get published, but I kept getting rejected until I started just telling the story. Just tell the story; don't inject anything that you might think is a nice turn of a word. If you have a nice truism or amorphism, don't use it, stay away from it.
ANVIL: Bruce, you've been a horseshoer, a blacksmith, and a writer. Can you briefly comment on those careers? And what will be your next goal, challenge _ or "adventure"?
BRUCE: The beauty of horseshoeing is that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end; it's all there in an hour, hour and half, or however long it takes you to do it. And every horse is different. Even if it's a horse you've been doing for years and years, each time you go and do that horse, it's going to be different. If it isn't different, you're doing something wrong because you should be shoeing to improve the horse, even if he's perfect, which they are not. They are a living thing and something is always happening to them. So you have a challenge. Each thing in its entirety is a circle, and you keep feeding it. Blacksmithing is just bigger and bigger. The thing about blacksmithing is that it doesn't pay. I want to do more writing and more teaching. I'd like to be known as a demonstrator and do seminars either in horseshoeing or blacksmithing. I'd like to do a lot of beginning stuff for blacksmiths if we did the nationals down here. I do what I want to do, and I'm happy with it. I like to teach, and I enjoy working this fair. As for writing, it's all in your mind; you don't lose it, it's there, and I still have millions of "adventures" to write about.
ANVIL: Tell me about your shop.
BRUCE: Basically, I'm a "floating forger." There are a lot of good shops right here in the area, so they have jobs and hire me to get the job started. I'm getting too old for the really hard, physical stuff even though I really loved that. You know, "the mark of blood" and the real sweat _ that's the old macho thing.
ANVIL: So, being a "floating forger" must afford you many opportunities to do various projects. Di Don't really see how this answers Rob's basic question?
BRUCE: Yes, and strange ones. And it also expands. You start dying when you stop growing. Now, basically, you physically stop growing when you're about 27-years-old. Then you start dying _ physically, yes, but the brain never stops growing, so if I can keep learning, keep getting new projects, keep getting challenged; well, how I got started in horseshoeing was that I said, "I can do anything." I got accused a lot of times by my peers of being the most arrogant person that ever lived because, yes, I can do anything. I got into more trouble with that statement because it forces you to push your limits. People that build themselves into a little penned-in area have these limits all locked up in there. They get secure in what they can do, and they stay right there. In my philosophy, they are as good as dead. For me, living on the edge is spooky. I'd like to have more money than I'm making now. That would be nice, but I don't want to get locked in to when I look down that road I see the same thing over and over again. Keep an open mind and have the arrogance to say, "Yes, I can do anything," which can also get you into a lot of trouble. You see, in this day and age the idea if something fascinates you, you're not going to do it because it might interfere with the money or this or that. The bottom line is you're not going to get out of this alive. Life is a terminal disease so you might as well enjoy it. And if you deny yourself the fascination, no matter how big or small, you're just driving another nail in your coffin. And something else, my advice, especially to horseshoers: You don't want to be a macho, but you have to be tough. In other words, it hurts; it hurts to shoe a horse. There's no way around it. You're in a god-awful position. You collapse your diaphragm by bending over, you're not doing anything good for yourself. Your knees are in the wrong place, your back is all twisted, especially if they jerk on you. It requires a certain toughness, but it doesn't require like what I would do _ I'd start to sweat and hurt. I would say, "Aw, this feels good," and I started liking the pain because it was more of a credential, more of a spice to the machismo; a "See what I can endure" kind of thing. "What are you doing that for? Are you being a Tom Sawyer walking on a fence for Becky?" Number one, that doesn't work. All you're doing is destroying yourself. If it hurts, stand up. Don't shoe a horse in the noonday sun just to prove you're tougher than the rest of them. I used to do that. We had these big barns. I'd set them right next to a water trough, and I would be John Wayne! You know, riding into Hondo or something. I'd dunk my head in the thing, blow bubbles, take my shirt off, put it back on _ "I don't need shade! Look at this tough guy out here!" And I'd shoe the horse, and all the rest of the guys would say, "You're nuts!" And I'd say, "Yes!" And I can look back on it and I can still say "Yes," but I can also grin about it; it makes a fine story. "Look at this idiot, he did survive!"
ANVIL: You must have sort of a creative genius about you in that you do your ironwork that way and you also write that way.
BRUCE: No, oh no. I'm a mule. I tell everybody that. I copy, I start by copying. Like I say, writing a story is absolutely simple _ there's no genius in that. Like I tell people, if you can tell me the story, you can write it.
ANVIL: Would you recommend that a "budding" smith try to get involved in a fair?
BRUCE: No, it's too dangerous. You have to be good or you'll hurt somebody, unless you just want to sit there and turn shoes and do very simple things. What I like to do is pass on the magic. Let the people know that it's not dead, that we can actually do these things, so I do a lot of forge-welding out in front. For instance, watching a forge- weld. For a starting smith, they're just concentrating on getting the piece made, but what the people want is an exchange. They want to reach out and touch it. They see you doing an ancient thing and there's a "touching" that wants to happen, and I do it verbally. I look out at them and you can actually feel the vibes coming at you. I look up, smile, and talk to them as I'm working. This makes it magical. And so, for a beginning smith, if you want to turn a shoe, that's fine. In fact, that's all they ever ask me, "Do you make horseshoes?" Yes, for five bucks with your name on it, but you have to watch me do it. That's the requirement. Also, I bring "all but the kitchen sink" as far as steel, so when people ask me to make something, I usually can. And when they get to watch it being made, and that's magic! As for the dangers of it _ if you're cutting something off and you hit it a little bit too hard, you send a hot piece of steel out in the crowd. Or, if you're forge- welding and get it too hot, and you hit it and it comes apart, you're going to burn somebody. What you should try to do is get on with somebody who does it. There are others, but I don't think anybody makes an axe. The amount of slag and stuff that flies out of there is very dangerous.
ANVIL: I've never seen anybody forge a rasp into the edge of an axe.
BRUCE: The reason for the rasp is that it has the teeth so when you're pulling it out of the fire, sweeping around with it. I've done it without a rasp, and that little piece in there, everything is molten and slippery, and it will flip forward usually, and you have a gap right behind that thing that's all the way through the axe. With a rasp, you close the walls down and it won't move. That's the main reason, the big teeth on it. It won't slip at all, and I have millions of them. Tell the horse you saved the rasp to make snakes out of. You saw my snakes here. Snakes and bits for tomahawks. When they get old and gray, you can make $42 snakes out of an $18 rasp. Henry Ford should have had the technology that we have as horseshoers!
ANVIL: So recycling is the name of the game?
BRUCE: Right. So, if there are any old rasps out there, send them to me because I make snakes out of them.
ANVIL: A very, informative interview, Bruce. Thank you.